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Glasnost for US Intelligence: Will Transparency Lead to Increased Public Trust?

RESEARCH Public Opinion Survey by Joshua Busby and Stephen Slick
American flag, waving in front of a dark blue sky

A University of Texas polling project from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found Americans consider the work of the intelligence community effective.


A polling project launched last summer by the University of Texas aims to shed light on Americans’ perception of intelligence agencies, and to test the claim that efforts by these agencies to be more open will enhance their democratic legitimacy. While Americans generally consider the work of the intelligence community (IC) effective, few understand the institutional framework for supervising and overseeing this part of our government – despite more than a decade of vigorous public debate over controversial intelligence programs.  

Key Findings 

  • Americans generally regard the intelligence community as effective, particularly in preventing terrorism and learning the plans of hostile powers. 
  • Americans are less convinced the intelligence community is respectful of privacy and civil liberties.   
  • Less informed Americans, particularly younger people, were less likely to view the intelligence community as effective. 
  • Americans broadly were supportive of the intelligence community using all lawful means to acquire intelligence, but were divided on the need for surrendering privacy rights. 
  • Republicans were even more likely than Democrats or Independents to say the intelligence community helps the country produce sound foreign policies. 
  • Though less than a majority, Democrats were more likely than Republicans or Independents to support protecting the privacy rights of foreigners.  
About the Authors
Nonresident Fellow, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Nonresident Fellow, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy expert Joshua Busby
Joshua Busby is a professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin. He is also a nonresident fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Nonresident Fellow, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy expert Joshua Busby
Stephen Slick
Director, Intelligence Studies Project
Stephen Slick is the director of The University of Texas at Austin's Intelligence Studies Project. He's also a former Central Intelligence Agency operations officer and United States National Security Council official.